Awhile ago I asked you to take a survey I created about the Twilight phenomenon, both regarding the books and the movies. I wanted to finally share the results along with my impressions of the book Bitten By Twilight: Youth Culture, Media, & the Vampire Franchise by Melissa A. Click, Jennifer Stevens Aubrey, & Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz.
After reading the results of my own survey, I realized that there are a lot of us who’ve either read the books or watched the movies related to Twilight. It is as I suspected, a phenomenon among, and across, all ages. Here are the results:
When asked if they had either seen the movie or read the books, 78% said yes. Of those 78%, 67% had read all four books. 44% had seen three of the four movies, 44% said they loved the series (movies or books).
An overwhelming 89% believed the series has had an impact on popular culture. Some of the responses as to what impact it had were as follows:
it inspired kids to read
the names of the main characters soared in popularity for newborns
it made vampires cool
it brought the supernatural into the mainstream.
As for the ages of those who took the survey (and thus of those who read the books/watched the movies):
11% were 17 and under
22% were 25-32
33% were 33-40
33% were 41 or older
There were some really interesting things about the survey that I didn’t expect, like the number of people 33 and over that either read the books or watched the movies. Adults have crossed over into reading books geared for teens in the last few years. I myself have read several series geared for either kids or teens. The Harry Potter series, Soul Screamers series (by Rachel Vincent), Twilight, and the Vampire Diaries series (by L.J. Smith). For the most part, they’ve been enjoyable despite being aimed at a much younger age group.
So what is the draw for an adult to read a book aimed for teens?
For myself, I just get drawn in by a good story. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t tend to read something simply because it’s popular (for instance, I’ve no desire at all the read The Hunger Games). If a good story is what draws us in (and note I didn’t say good writing, they are two completely separate things in my opinion, and the last two series I mention I’ve read have been for the quality of the story, not the quality of the writing), then what keeps us coming back? Do we, in general, let popular opinion determine what we read and watch?
I think the answer would be yes in most cases. It would certainly explain why Twilight has been (and continues to be) a bestseller around the world, and the soon to be fifth movie has been eagerly anticipated. Popular culture even is enamored with the stars and the recent development that on-screen and off-screen real loves Bella and Edward (Stewart and Pattinson), are currently on the outs.
- 100 million copies of four Twilight books have been sold worldwide.
- The first three books in the Twilight series spent a total of 143 consecutive weeks in the New York Times bestseller list.
- 1.3 million copies of Breaking Dawn were sold in the first day of its release.
Sales of Twilight books (source Publishers Weekly)
Sales of Twilight books, while still significant, cooled somewhat last year—just over 8.5 million books sold in 2010 vs. 26.5 million in 2009 and 27.5 million in 2008.
It’s obviously being read. A lot.
The real question is what messages do we take away from the Series? According to Bitten By Twilight that I mentioned earlier, a collection of essays written by scholars about the messages that Twilight (and Stephenie Meyer are sending), the messages are not all favorable. For instance, one scholar claims that the message being sent is one of male dominance and anti-feminism because main character Bella, (from whose perspective the series is told) gives in to male lead character Edward. (source Bitten, chp.2 Ames)
In Wilson’s essay (Bitten chp 3) he believes that Meyer has made Twilight into a race issue, where in Bella chooses the ‘white’ vampires and Edward, and not the ‘animality’ of the Quileute’s and Jacob. “The love triangle at the series’ core is also imbued with racial connotations, with a white vampire in competition with a Native American shapeshifter. Their characters are contrasted using various binaries that equate Edward with whiteness (and it’s associations with civility, wealth, and intellect) and Jacob with the indigenous (and its associations with animals, primitivism, and savagery).” (Wilson pg 56)
“Edward’s whiteness is portrayed as next to godliness in the texts, Jacob and the other Quileute characters’ russet-colored skin and black hair are associated with animality.” (Wilson pg 61)
Wilson goes on to say that the character of Laurent, a vampire intent on Bella’s death, having olive skin and black hair, and who is portrayed in the movie by an African-American, “these evil characters are visually associated with darkness and savagery” and raced vampires “are portrayed as more savage than their white counterparts.”
With reference to the vampire clan of Edward and his family and the pack of Jacob and the Quileute’s he says “This animal/human divide is echoed by the fact that the Quileute are referred to as the “wolf pack” and the Cullens as a “clan” by fans and in the media, with “pack” being far less civilized of a designation than “clan”.” (Wilson pg 62)
“…in which whiteness is associated with intellect, morality, and regality and darkness with animality, savagery, and evil, communicates to readers rather disturbing messages about race.” (Wilson pgs 65-66)
I began to wonder as I read the essays if the authors had even bothered to truly see the books for the fictional story it is. If they had I think they would have come to the same conclusion I did, that Edward and the Cullen’s being white has nothing to do with ‘privilege’ and ‘godliness’. Yes, Meyer frequently uses terms to describe Edward such as “godlike” and “having an angels face”, but there was no sense of this being the supreme powerful race. Describing the Quileute’s as having russet skin and black hair, Meyer simply describes the typical physical characteristics of a Native American, which Jacob is.
The references to clan and pack as being ‘civilized’ and ‘animalistic’ bothered me enormously. In the series Jacob is part of a pack, because the Quileute’s turn into werewolves, which are animals, and a group of animals is called a pack.
“Wolves live and hunt in packs of around six to ten animals.” “Wolfpacks are established according to a strict hierarchy…” (source: National Geographic)
By saying that the Quileute’s are a pack, Meyer is simply using the correct definition of a group of animals that live and hunt together, and in the case of her fictional novel, protect together.
Further essays, (Platt chp 4) go on to address the sexual aspects of the novels, wherein Bella and Edward practice abstinence until marriage. Bella is eager to sleep with Edward and give in to her desires, but Edward worries about her ‘losing her soul’ which Platt claims Meyer is saying “…the loss of Bella’s virginity is associated with the damnation of her soul, either through the violation of moral code, or the transformation of Bella into a vampire.” (Platt pg 82) Platt says the text claims to support numerous conservative social values, like abstinence until marriage.
I for one, can’t see anything wrong with supporting abstinence. Are we not the country with a staggering teen pregnancy problem?
•Although only 13% of teens have had sex by age 15, most initiate sex in their later teen years. By their 19th birthday, seven in 10 female and male teens have had intercourse. (source Guttmacher)
More than 400,000 teen girls, aged 15-19 years, give birth each year in the US.(source CDC)
I would sincerely think that Meyer’s portrayal of abstinence here would be a good thing. Especially considering the reach and popularity of the Twilight series which is aimed at young teen girls. The books properly depict the struggles of teens aiming to control their out of control desires.
Overall, the Twilight series was nothing more than a good story (if lacking in actual literary merit, while it has certainly grossed an amazing sum in financial terms, it will not be remembered as been having been particularly well written). I did not see the correlation of white being the supreme race and the Native American race as savage as depicted by several essays in Bitten. It simply was a love story that, for reasons I cannot even explain, I was drawn to and did enjoy (as far as the books go).
I’m very curious to hear what others thought. Does the Twilight series promote the white race, or give negative feminist ideas to young readers? What did you take away from the series?
In all disclosure, I have yet to finish Bitten. Mostly because the essays accuse Meyer of so many sub-verse underlying plots to rule the world, I’ve been to angry to pick it up and finish it. Get over it people, it’s fiction.